As we age, it’s common to have trouble hearing higher pitches and certain sounds like “s” or “th.” It may feel like other people are mumbling, or that it is difficult to understand what people are saying on the phone or in loud group settings. If any of these feel familiar, you may be one of 30 million adults living in the U.S. with some degree of hearing loss.
What is a hearing aid, exactly?
You’ve likely seen people with hearing aids. They are small—sometimes almost invisible—devices that go inside or behind the ear. Hearing aids don’t “fix” hearing loss; instead, they amplify sounds that you may have trouble hearing and filter out background noise.
There are many brands and manufacturers of hearing aids, but most models include four major components:
- A microphone to capture sounds,
- A processor to filter and amplify the sound for the user,
- A receiver to send the sound to the ear canal,
- And a battery to keep the hearing aid working.
Types of hearing aids
There are two main types of hearing aids: in the ear (ITE) and behind the ear (BTE).
ITEs are small devices placed inside the ear canal and removed by pulling on a tiny cord or antennae. ITEs are less noticeable to other people, and the sound quality can be better than other options. They do need to be fitted by a professional, and they may not have as many extra features as a BTE option. Additionally, ITEs can be hard to use if you have trouble picking up small items.
With BTEs, most of the hearing aid rests behind the ear. There’s a tiny tube that goes from the device to the ear canal. BTEs are more likely to have rechargeable batteries and can be repaired more easily. They’re also easier to pick up if you have dexterity issues, but may be uncomfortable if you wear glasses.
How to choose a hearing aid
Both ITEs and BTEs are offered in a wide range of models with different shapes, sizes, and features. When choosing a hearing aid, you might want to ask:
- How much do they cost?
- Are they comfortable?
- Are they easy for you to get in and out?
- How long does the battery last?
- Do they connect to devices, like your phone or computer?
- Do you like the way they look?
- Is there a trial period to see if they work well?
- Do they have a warranty?
Hearing aids work best when configured by a professional
Hearing aids work best when they are configured specifically for you. So, while there are hearing aids available without a prescription, working with a professional—like an audiologist or hearing aid specialist—can help you ensure the hearing aid works correctly. These professionals can help you figure out which sounds and pitches you are having trouble hearing and adjust the device to fit your needs.
The cost of hearing aids
Over-the-counter hearing aids available at your local pharmacy or retailer will likely start at about $500. Higher quality hearing aids can cost between $1,000 and $5,000. Some insurance providers - including some Medicare Advantage plans and the Veterans’ Administration - may offer coverage of hearing aid related care, including consults and fittings. Most states have a 30 to 60 day return window for hearing aids, so if your hearing aids don’t work for you, you may be able to return them.
What you can expect when you have a hearing aid
The most important part of wearing a hearing aid is that you can hear better! However, it may take some time to get used to a hearing aid because your brain needs to learn how to understand new sounds. When you first get your hearing aids, The Cleveland Clinic recommends that you wear your hearing aids whenever you’re awake for a month. If you experience headaches, tinnitus, feedback, or skin irritation, consult with a professional to help you resolve the issue.
Hearing aids usually last between three and seven years. Over time, you’ll need to take care of your hearing aids. For example, you might need to clean the hearing aids with a damp cloth and recharge or replace the batteries. It’s also important to keep the hearing aids away from pets and small children who might ingest the aids or damage the components.
Here’s to hearing!
Hearing aids have many benefits, from being able to communicate more easily with friends and family to helping reduce your chances of cognitive decline and depression. They also allow you to stay more independent and feel more comfortable navigating the world around us. So, “here, here” to hearing aids!
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